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Jallikattu was a single issue campaign doomed for failure

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A frightened and provoked bull is released into a frenzied crowd of people who, to prove their masculinity and prowess, attempt to grab his hump and hold on while attempting to pull off a cloth tied to the horns. So that they can overpower the bull, he will be stabbed with knives, hit by sticks and even punched. This is the practice of Jallikattu or bull taming and it is practiced mainly in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu.

To ensure that the bull is both agitated and terrified, he first has his tail twisted to the point of fracture, bitten, or both. The bull is sometimes made to drink alcohol to cause confusion, or he has chili pepper rubbed into his eyes. After all, the bull has to attempt to run away before he can be chased.

Jallikattu is a case of animal cruelty, claims the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) and PeTA, among other NGO’s. Under a notification of the Prevention of Cruelty Act of 1960 (PCA), in the year 2011 bulls had been added to a list of animals who were not to be trained or exhibited as performance animals. This laid the foundation for a legal challenge to Jallikattu.

The opponents to the ban on Jallikattu cited the right to religious freedom, preservation of culture and the right to livelihood in their reply to the charges of animal cruelty.

The Indian courts in recent times have seen a barrage of cases challenging various uses of animals because of the inherent cruelty involved. Among these have been challenges to cock-fighting, to using horses and elephants to give rides to people, to keeping birds in cages etc.

The courts have held that animals are entitled to protection under article 21 of the Indian constitution against human excesses.

On May 7, 2014, the Supreme Court banned Jallikattu. However in January 2016, the central government issued a notification revoking the ban. This revocation of the ban was also challenged in the courts. However, as the central government withdrew its notification, dated 6 January 2016, the government of the state of Tamil Nadu was now free to pass a new ordinance amending the state PCA to allow Jallikattu. The ordinance became act after the President’s approval.

The Supreme Court refused to stay the act by saying the question under debate was now one of determining if Jallikattu was part of our culture, which every citizen was obligated to preserve, if the practice was safe, and if it involved unnecessary pain or suffering for the animals. The argument made by council opposing the Jallikattu ban was that if slaughtering of animals was permitted then why not Jallikattu.

The latest in the saga is that it has been referred to a five-judge constitutional bench. However the government has suggested that it will take the parliamentary route to ensure Jallikattu continues, no matter what the final outcome of the legal challenge is.

So, here is a case where the verdict consistently found in favor of the plaintiffs and held the practice of Jallikattu to be cruel and unnecessary. A ban was imposed but Jallikattu continues. So what went wrong? Why is it that a ban by the Supreme Court of the land could not be enforced?

SICs focus on one animal use as being morally worse than the other. As long as we endorse or promote them, we validate other animal uses by acknowledging that we have the right to use them as long as this use is regulated. Therefore, when we claim that animals are resources owned by us, then our needs, economic concerns and cultural practices always trump their interests, no matter how trivial or unnecessary. And so humane treatment becomes irrelevant.

Many believe that we are superior beings created in God’s image and as such are entitled to use animals as long as we follow the doctrine of good stewardship. This is unacceptable and forms the basis for our reasoning that the fight for animal rights must be pursued both as a matter of justice and as a moral imperative.

For those of us who are vegan and upset at what is happening on a massive scale to animals every single minute of every day, the feeling that we need to change something right now is very powerful. How can we let this continue? But let us remember that our needs and desires do not always benefit the animals. In fact, if our misguided actions prolong animal existence as things owned by humans, we are obligated to stop in the interest of the animals. Further, the fact is that this is a zero sum game. Filing a case in the courts is a time-consuming and expensive affair and, sadly, doomed to fail because, by and large, the laws of the land reflect the views of the people. This is what has happened here with the Government stepping in to ensure that Jallikattu continues no matter what.

Surely our time is better spent educating people that animals are sentient beings with self-awareness and the desire to live; that veganism is a moral imperative, and that if we recognize the worth of animals as sentient beings, then justice demands that we stop using them. It is essential to point out that no animal use is valid so that we stop debating what is and what is not acceptable animal use or promulgating the idea that one use is better than the other.

In our eagerness to have someone tell us that there is a way to help the animals today, we fall prey to welfarist organisations that ask us to assuage our guilt by donating to them. They assure us that, in doing so, we have discharged our duties towards animals. The fact is that there is no quick fix and that our commitment has to be a long term one.

I am reminded of generation ships that set out on space journeys knowing that the people who begin this journey will not be here in the end. Someone in the future will see the end of the journey, but it will not be us. We all have our assigned roles to play and our role today is that of educator. We will sow the seeds of knowledge and awareness to guide future generations. This should not be perceived as failure. In fact we are pioneers, standing strong for what we believe in.

This is an essential task and the framework on which we can build. We have to be the grassroots workers creating more vegans, who, in turn, will carry on the work after we are gone. We have to be satisfied with this much. Remember, our desire for instant gratification is ours alone. It does not help the animals.

Therefore educate today. It is our privilege to do so and in a way that will resound and ring true for hundreds of years in the future. Therefore as Prof. Francione says, Educate, Adopt and Foster. Go vegan and stay vegan for the animals. They need us to do the right thing today.


Cover image sourced from Google

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